Canada’s first combustion-powered car lives again in this now-finished replica
To preserve his grandfather’s legacy in Canadian automotive history, Ron Foss has given generous amounts of time, energy, and, of course, money to recreate what was his country’s first internal combustion-powered automobile.
George Foote Foss rolled the Fossmobile out of his Sherbrooke, Quebec, shop in 1897. A mechanic and blacksmith by profession, George declined an offer to join Henry Ford in the automobile business as well as multiple offers to manufacture the Fossmobile for what was then an unknown market. By 1902, George was living and working in Montreal. He sold the Fossmobile for 75 dollars (roughly $2500 today) and, since that moment, the original vehicle has vanished.
For Ron, the Fossmobile has forever been part of Foss family lore. A few years ago, he started researching his grandfather’s pioneering work. He discovered that Canada’s first car had received little recognition.
Automobiles of that era used many common parts and Ron was inspired to build an accurate tribute to the Fossmobile using the information he’d gathered in his research. Since we first wrote about the project, this recreation has been officially unveiled and is now ready to be shared with the world.
First, however, the Fossmobile replica will be shared with the country that birthed the original. For the unveiling, Ron choose the month of April, 2022, which marked the 125th anniversary of the Fossmobile emerging from George’s shop in Quebec. Ron and the Foss family hosted the event at the Hagerty Garage + Social in Burlington, Ontario. (Hagerty is one of many supporters of this historic project.)
Perhaps the project’s most notable supporter is Legendary Motorcar Company, which undertook the restoration of vintage components and assembly of those recreated for this modern Fossmobile. Jason Humphries, one of Legendary’s talented mechanics and fabricators, spearheaded the unusual project and has been working on it for a couple of years.
Humphries’ role at Legendary has involved him in much more modern projects, like the muscle-car and Cobra work for which the company is best known. The Fossmobile replica lay rather off the beaten path, but he wasn’t deterred.
“It’s decades different from the stuff we normally work on and we only have so many pictures of the [original] car to know just how everything was built, but by that we could tell what style it was. Then we were able to look at some more period-correct cars from museums and understand how everything was built and meant to operate.
“For me, the biggest thing is the story behind the car,” Humphries continues. “It’s exciting because Ron has all these stories and so much research on it. Because it’s part of the Foss family, it’s such a great story, and to see Ron with the car now, I’m over the moon.”
Although the automobile initiated a groundbreaking shift in transportation technology over a century ago, much mechanical componentry was shared between early carmakers and, thanks to this overlap, Ron was able to acquire several period-correct parts in the same way many of us do with our more modern restoration projects—on eBay Motors.
“I’ll put it this way,” Ron says. “If it’s little, I got it on eBay. For example, the mixing valve, the spark plugs, the battery box, and the buzz coil all came from searches and acquisitions through eBay. I could put my fingers on items that were period-correct or close enough that with only minor modification we could make it work historically. For me, that was really important. Authenticity and historical relevance is a really important part of the puzzle and there’s no question that eBay gave me access to those pieces.”
For Ryan Baltjes of eBay Canada, the site’s involvement made perfect sense. “A lot of people turn to eBay to find things from their childhood, but I think this is probably one of those unique situations where someone is looking for their grandfather’s parts and you’re going back 100-plus years, so it’s definitely a really interesting story. The beauty of eBay is that you can pretty much find anything there. When there’s a part that’s hard to find, that’s really our sweet spot, and, as a company, we’re just happy to be part of that journey and to be able to help solve some of those problems for Ron.” eBay Motors Canada has also lent a hand to support the project.
This summer, the Fossmobile tribute car is heading out on tour and will be making appearances at several events, including a visit to the notable Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance in September. Afterward, it will make a stop at Hagerty’s Canadian offices for a few weeks before departing to its permanent home at the Canadian Automotive Museum in Oshawa, Ontario.
The museum’s executive director and curator, Alexander Gates, is excited for the Fossmobile to arrive. “When we talk about the origins of the Canadian automobile, this is the origin of it and now we don’t have to have just a photo. We can say this is how big this is, what it was like, even though it’s not the original.
“I don’t think there are any museums that could have come up with anything remotely close to the level of detail and authenticity that Ron put together,” he continues. “For any exhibit we’re going to do, this is better than we could ever imagine for interpretive reasons and our plans are to share the Fossmobile with different organizations.”
Part of the advantages of showcasing a painstaking replica instead of the original is its durability. Not only does the recreated Fossmobile weigh just 750 pounds, with its small footprint making it easy to transport; it’s not as fragile as the 125-year-old original would be, giving Gates much more flexibility to share the vehicle with the world.
“In terms of educating the public, which is really the purpose of this project, it’s an absolutely wonderful piece and we’re going to show the Fossmobile from coast to coast over the years and I expect there’s going to be a lot of interest to show it, even internationally.”
When the Fossmobile is officially donated to the Canadian Automotive Museum this fall, it will represent the end of the project for Ron. At the moment, Ron doesn’t think that parting with the car will be a sad affair.
“One of the first things I did when I began this project was reach out to museums. I wanted an end game and that was part of the plan right from the get-go. This wasn’t going to become a garage trophy for Ron Foss. This was going to be something that Canadians can appreciate. I think the Fossmobile is going to where it belongs and I don’t think I’ll regret doing it.”
Given all of the challenges presented by assembling this historically accurate tribute to the Fossmobile, Ron should indeed be proud of what he’s accomplished. He’s not only recreated the work that George Foote Foss pioneered over a century ago, but he’s also preserved his grandfather’s legacy and laid the groundwork to share George’s place in automotive history with succeeding generations.
Ron has documented much of his grandfather’s history and that of the car on this website: Fossmobile.ca. It’s a fascinating read for anyone interested in the combustion-powered dawn of the Canadian automobile. While Ron has poured in thousands of dollars of his own money into this project, he’s also established a GoFundMe for anyone who would like to contribute to this historic undertaking.